English translation of the article which originally appeared in L’Osservatore Romano and was reprinted in full by Vatican Radio.
It is pastoral charity that urges one “to go out to encounter those who are far away and, once encountered, to begin a path of welcoming, accompaniment, discernment and integration into the ecclesial community.”
It is around this premise that the letter Pope Francis has sent to the bishops of Buenos Aires — addressing it to their delegate, Bishop Sergio Alfredo Fenoy — in response to the document “criterios básicos para la aplicación del capítulo viii laetitia de Amoris” (“Basic criteria for the application of the chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia”).
Expressing his appreciation for the text drafted by the bishops, the Pope highlighted how it manifests in its fullness the sense of Chapter 8 of the Apostolic Exhortation — which deals with “accompanying, discerning and integrating weakness” — clarifying that “that are no other interpretations.” The bishops’ document, the Pope said, “will do much good,” especially for that “pastoral charity” which runs through the whole of it.
The text drafted by the pastors of the Church in Argentina is “a true example of accompaniment to priests,” the Pope said, noting essential is the closeness“of the bishop to his clergy and clergy to the bishop.” In fact, he wrote, the “‘closest’ neighbor of the bishop is a priest and the commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself begins for us bishops precisely with our priests.”
Naturally, pastoral charity understood as the ongoing tension of seeking out those who are far away is tiring. It is a “hand to hand” pastoral care which cannot be reduced to “programmatic, organizational or legal mediation, although these are necessary.” Of the four “pastoral attitudes” indicated in the document — “welcome, accompaniment, discernment and integration” — the one least practiced, according to Francis, is discernment.
“I consider personal and communal formation in discernment in our seminaries and rectories to be urgent,” Francis stated. Lastly, the pope said that Amoris Laetitia was “the fruit of the work and prayer of the entire Church, with the mediation of two synods and the Pope.” He therefore recommended a thorough catechesis on the exhortation, which “certainly will help the growth, strengthening and holiness of the family.”
Focusing precisely on Chapter 8 of the Apostolic Exhortation, the document of the Argentine bishops state that “we should not speak of ‘permission’ to have access the Sacraments, but a process of discernment accompanied by a pastor.” This process must be “personal and pastoral.” Accompaniment is an exercise of the via caritatis, the document states, an invitation to follow the path of Jesus.
Such an itinerary, the bishops write, requires the pastoral charity of the priest, who “welcomes the penitent, listens to him attentively and shows him the maternal face of the Church, as he accepts his good intention and his good intention to place his whole life in the light of the Gospel and to practice charity.” This path, the warn, does not necessarily end in the Sacrament, but may lead to other forms of greater integration into the life of the Church: a greater presence in the community, participation in prayer or reflection groups, and a commitment to various forms of ecclesial service.
“When the concrete circumstances of a couple make it feasible, especially when both are Christians with a journey of faith, one may propose that they commit to living in continence.” Amoris Laetitia “does not ignore the difficulties of this option (cf. note 329) and leaves open the possibility of receiving the sacrament of Reconciliation when one fails in this intention” (cf. note 364).
“In other more complex circumstances, and when it is not possible to obtain a declaration of nullity,” the document continues, “the aforementioned option may not, in fact, be viable. Nonetheless, it is equally possible to undertake a journey of discernment.” And “if one arrives at the recognition that, in a concrete case, there are limitations that diminish responsibility and culpability (cf. 301-302), particularly when a person judges that he would fall into a subsequent fault by damaging the children of the new union, Amoris Laetitia opens up the possibility of access to the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist (cf. notes 336 and 351). These in turn disposes the person to continue maturing and growing with the strength of grace.